As a young girl in grade school, Candice Gowans was called The Secretary because of her quirky fashion sense. She would wear long skirts and clothes other children her age thought were odd. She got her first pair of jeans in grade 10, preferring to wear clothes she designed with her stepmother, who did the sewing. For Gowans, being odd was not a problem. Her goal was to stand out.
Now at 48 Gowans is still marching to the beat of her own drum. She still wears her own designs but today she is also in charge of sewing them. She has turned her eye for fashion into three size-inclusive fashion lines: Gowans Couture, HeyHey & Co, and Sparks Swim.
After being in the massage therapy industry for over 12 years and owning her own wellness centre, she decided to leave the industry and start her own swimwear line.
“It came from going into stores,” she said, “and not being happy with what I was trying for swimwear.”
Now she makes clothing she says everyone will feel comfortable and great in, no matter his or her size or body issues.
“Your measurement is your measurement,“ she said. “If you have the challenge of being really tiny and not being able to fit into something, really long legs, long arms or being curvy, it doesn’t really matter … you can come in and we’ll work it out.”
Gowans is a walking advertisement of what her clothing line aims to do in the bespoke fashion industry.
“I actually don’t buy clothes [anymore],” she said. ”Right from the undergarments to the outwear to jackets, I actually make all of it myself.”
As she speaks, she is wearing a long-sleeved black turtleneck top, black pants with black designs and a faux fur pocket scarf all from her Gowans Couture line. She says shopping from her own closet is one of the perks of owning her own business. The other benefit for her is the freedom of being able to make a design as elaborate as she wants to wear and the satisfaction of seeing an idea come to reality.
Along with all the freedom and satisfaction, she acknowledges there are also challenges that come with being an entrepreneur and a small business owner.
“I find it really challenging to focus on time to get everything done and learn how to delegate,” she said.
Gowans is not a stranger to challenges. When she made the decision to leave massage therapy, she said she did not know how to sew.
“I thought, ‘Well there’s nothing in this life you can’t learn,’ so I learned from scratch,” she remembered. “At this point, I feel like I know what I’m doing.”
While she’s sure in her abilities now, Gowans remains grateful to two women who she says were instrumental in her success. Linda Blake of Ma Cherie in Burlington, who created financing so she would be able to buy sewing machines though she had bad credit at the time, and Beverly Johnson of Bra-makers Supply for teaching her how to make bras.
With all her success in the industry, having a good support system is still as important to her as when she first started. Her support system includes some of the 100 business owners at The Cotton Factory where her business is located. She is also a member of the Facebook group Hamilton Fempreneurs, which has over 1,000 women who also have their own businesses.
“I feel like that is truly a group of women who want to support other women and see other women succeed,” she said. “When new people join the group people are really welcoming.”
Gowans advises those who are starting out with their own business to make sure they are passionate about it. In addition to passion, she added, “Do your research and your business planning and getting your ideas and your systems in place before you really venture out.”
Her passion for fashion and business planning have helped get her from the massage therapist who didn’t know anything about sewing to a recognized designer in the fashion industry. She was featured in last year’s Glamour in the Hammer, Hamilton’s biggest runway show.
“To be included in that with other designers who have been designing for many years,” she said. “To me, that is one of the biggest milestones.”
Now she has other milestones she would like to reach. She says she would like to celebrate more than 10 years in the fashion industry with people coming to her location for private shopping nights. She also wants to have people all around the world wearing designs from her clothing lines.
She will be showing her new line of Gowan Couture clothing in this year’s Glamour in the Hammer and is hoping to also show a new line of luxury swimwear made from chlorine-resistant and UV-protectant fabric.
Her final words of wisdom for new business owners?
“Fail over and over again because that’s when you really learn. I am happy for all the failures I’ve had.”